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What Facebook Teaches Us About Change

May 31, 2017

What Facebook teaches us

AMA Quarterly had the opportunity to speak with Michael Hoefflinger, an executive-in-residence at XSeed Capital and former head of global business marketing at Facebook. Hoefflinger, who helped build Facebook’s worldwide marketing teams from the ground up, is the author of Becoming Facebook: The 10 Challenges That Defined the Company That’s Disrupting the World (AMACOM, 2017). He talked about the lessons of change everyone can learn from Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

AMA: What is the lesson that Facebook can teach executives and managers on the subject of change and how to handle it?

Michael Hoefflinger: I think what Mark Zuckerberg is now teaching us—and this started from the very beginning, even when he was a preteen beginning to get involved with computers—is that doing is better than dogma. You don’t think too much and too long, or don’t negotiate too much and too long, about what the next thing is that you want to try. Instead, you build that next thing and then see how people react to it. You still see that behavior now. Of course they’re planning and thinking about the future. In some ways, that mission will never change. Making the world more open and connected is still what they are going to be doing 25 years from now. How that happens is a matter of doing and seeing how people are reacting to it.

[Take the] entire chapter on Instagram, for example. Very few of us know that Instagram started as something completely different. It was called Bourbon, and it was a location-based service that was struggling to compete with other services of that kind back in 2010. CEO Kevin Systrom and his engineering partner, Mike Krieger, realized that it wasn’t working. So they pivoted to narrow that insider service just down to the act of sharing photos and making that a very beautiful and very simple experience.

That is a perfect example of doing, not overthinking. You’ve got to plan, you’ve got to think about what people might want, but then you have to put it out there. You try it, and then you move forward. Sometimes that can be difficult for the ego, because you may put out something that is not very popular. But you actually have to be confident that it will get you one step closer to the thing that will be popular.

So many folks on Facebook are teaching so many of us that, especially in the digital universe, you go out and you build, and you have that inclination to build and move quickly. Instead of attempting to predict perfectly what people will like, you put out something that is “This is what I think you want,” and then allow people to react by virtue of their behavior. Pay attention as closely as you possibly can to what they are doing and then adjust further.

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